Icon of American family veers towards style and luxury.
The station wagon, exemplified by the wood-grain 1970 Buick Estate that starred in the campy movie “The Way Way Back,” was the classic American family car of baby boomers and Gen Xers. In the age of crossovers, however, a new generation of wagons steers away from families with performance, style and versatile luxury. The modern wagon is perfect for young professionals and trendy empty-nesters, for outdoor and driving enthusiasts who appreciate all-wheel-drive or turbocharged engines.
“On the whole, wagons offer practicality and spaciousness in a great-handling package,” says Dana Headrick, product manager at Mercedes-Benz. “We offer high levels of luxury, exquisite finishes, and intelligence with a third-row seat. It’s a lot more unique than an SUV.”
Forget American brands, though, because wagons now wear Subaru and European emblems on their noses. And don’t call them station wagons either: They’re Estates, Sport Turismos, or Sport Wagens.
Check the brawny wagon swagger dropped on the Geneva Motor Show in March.
Porsche debuted the 2018 Panamera Sport Turismo, a five-door wagon version of its large sedan. Enthusiasts can tap into a 330-horsepower turbocharged V-6, 440-horsepower twin-turbo V-6, 550 horsepower twin-turbo V-8, or 462-horsepower E-Hybrid. Sexy styling accompanies prices ranging from $97,250 to $155,050.
Mercedes-Benz brought its E400 4matic ($62,300) and AMG E63 wagons (pricing TBD). The former boasts a 329-horsepower biturbo four-cylinder engine while the latter uses a 603-horsepower biturbo V-8 that leaps from 0 to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds on the way to 180 mph.
“Wagon buyers are among our most loyal customers,” Headrick says. “They expect the performance and luxury of a car and appreciate it’s a little easier to drive and access the rear seat with children. The E63 wagon is wildly popular with AMG enthusiasts.”
The E400 and E63 will immigrate to America, but the trail-friendly E-Class All Terrain will not. Neither will the sleek new BMW 5-Series wagon that debuted in Geneva (though the 3-Series Sports Wagon is available from $42,950). They occupy niches too small in America.
In the U.S., wagons are geared toward outdoor and performance enthusiasts.
“One group that has noticed value in a wagon versus SUV is cyclists,” says Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst at Edmunds. “Many cyclists like wagons due to their extended length, making it advantageous when lifting bikes in and out of the cargo areas.”
Wagons also seem to be popular with surfers, campers and skiers.
For 20 years, these downtime daredevils have embraced America’s best-selling wagon, the Subaru Outback ($25,656). It’s equipped to haul sports gear on its configurable luggage rack while taking owners almost anywhere with advanced all-wheel-drive and SUV-challenging ground clearance.
During 2016, Subaru moved 182,898 Outbacks, or nearly three times more than its Legacy sedans. Subaru is an anomaly, as wagons typically account for 10 percent or less of total model sales. Audi Allroad sales are just 7 percent of A4/S4 sedans. Headrick couldn’t say what percent of E-Class sales are wagons, but mentioned they have decent volume globally. It’s a low-volume body style in the U.S., but appeals to buyers across demographics.
“We don’t differentiate between buyers, but do focus on life stages,” Headrick says. “Customers with a couple of dogs and camping equipment may be looking at wagons as an alternative. Wagon buyers know they are going to participate in activities and want a car that is ready for anything. Nostalgia could play a part with some of our shoppers.”